The Philosophy of Happiness
As we noted yesterday, scholars, philosophers, and scientists have been debating the exact science of happiness since our earliest times. They rarely agreed wholly—each took a nuanced, unique perspective on the qualities that yield a happy life and person. Let’s dive into some of those theories in greater depth today, so we can identify what resonates best with our present lived experiences.
We first begin with Democrates, the earliest known scholar in Western civilization to discuss the theory of happiness. Prior to his two cents, the general understanding of happiness was that it was bestowed upon the lucky few by the fates or the Gods. Happiness was not something we had any agency in commanding—it was predetermined. Instead, Democrats took happiness into the hands of the individual and declared it to be a state of mind, not something bestowed upon one by a higher power. Thus, our understanding of happiness as something we can control came to life.
Democrats was followed by two famous scholars, Socrates and Plato, who believed that we find happiness when we’re living our best life through the pursuit of pleasure. This theory is generally known as “hedonism” and remained the dominant theory of happiness for some time. This theory valued the pursuit of pleasure—physical, intellectual, social—as the only intrinsic good.
And then, the most prominent philosopher on the theory of happiness, Aristotle, chimed in. In some ways, Aristotle agreed with his predecessors—happiness does involve pleasure, but that was an incomplete understanding. He believed that the thing that distinguishes humans from animals was rational thought, though pleasure-seeking was a mutual trait shared by both species.